A muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), also known as a muskelunge, muscallonge, milliganong, or maskinonge (and oftenabbreviated "muskie" or "musky"), is a large, relatively uncommon freshwater fish of North America. Muskellunge are the largest member of the pike family, Esocidae. The name comes from the Ojibwa word maashkinoozhe, meaning "ugly pike", by way of French masque allongé (modified from the Ojibwa word by folk etymology), "elongated mask." The French common name is masquinongé or maskinongé. Muskellunge are known by a wide variety of trivial names including Ohio muskellunge, Great Lakes muskellunge, barred muskellunge, Ohio River pike, Allegheny River pike, jack pike, unspotted muskellunge and the Wisconsin muskellunge.
Muskellunge closely resemble other Esocids such as the northern pike and American pickerel in both appearance and behavior. Like other pikes, the body plan is typical of ambush predators with an elongate body, flat head and dorsal, pelvic and anal fins set far back on the body. Muskellunge attain lengths of 60–150 cm (2.0–4.9 ft) and weights of over 30 kg (66 lb). The fish are a light silver, brown or green with dark vertical stripes on the flank, which may tend to break up into spots. In some cases, markings may be absent altogether, especially in fish from turbid waters. This is in contrast to northern pike which have dark bodies with light markings. A sure way of distinguishing the two similar species is by counting the sensory pores on the underside of the mandible. A muskie will have seven or more per side while the northern pike never has more than six. The lobes of the caudal (tail) fin in muskellunge come to a sharper point while those of northern pike are more generally rounded. In addition, unlike pike, muskies have no scales on the lower half of the operculum.
Muskellunge are found in oligotrophic and mesotrophic lakes and large
rivers from northern Michigan, northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota
through the Great Lakes region, north into Canada, throughout most of
the St Lawrence River drainage and northward throughout the upper Mississippi
valley, although the species also extends as far south as Chattanooga
in the Tennessee River valley. Several North Georgia reservoirs have
healthy stocked populations of muskie. They are also found in the Red
River drainage of the Hudson Bay basin. They prefer clear waters where
they lurk along weed edges, rock outcrops or other structures to rest.
A fish forms two distinct home ranges in summer: a shallow range and
a deeper one. The shallow range is generally much smaller than the deeper
range due to shallow water heating up. A musky will continually patrol
the ranges in search of available food in the appropriate conditions
of water temperature.
Muskies prey upon anything that fits in the mouth. Most of the diet
consists of fish but it also includes crayfish, frogs, ducklings, snakes,
muskrats, mice, other small mammals, and small birds. The mouth is large
with many large and hair-like teeth. Muskies will attempt to take their
prey head-first, sometimes in a single gulp. They will take prey items
that are up to 30% of their total length. In the spring, they tend to
prefer smaller bait as their metabolism is slower and large bait in fall
prior to winter.
Muskellunge are sometimes gregarious, forming small schools over places
of structure. They spawn in mid to late spring, somewhat later than northern
pike, over shallow, vegetated areas. Rock or sand bottom is preferred
for spawning so that the eggs don't sink into the muck and suffocate.
The males arrive first and attempt to establish dominance over a territory.
Spawning may last from five to ten days and occurs mainly at night. The
zygotes are negatively buoyant and slightly adhesive; they adhere to
plants and the bottom of the lake. Soon afterward they are abandoned
by the adults. Those embryos which are not eaten by fish, insects or
crayfish hatch within two weeks. The larvae live on yolk until the mouth
is fully developed, at which time they begin to feed on copepods and
other zooplankton. They soon begin to prey upon fish. Juveniles will
generally attain a length of 30 cm (12 in) by November 7 of the first
Adult muskellunge have few predators other than large birds of prey
and anglers, but juveniles are consumed by other muskies, northern